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'Walk Away Renee' Filmmaker Jonathan Caouette Talks Parallel Realities, A Possible Book, Making Personal Docs & More

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by Christopher Bell
June 29, 2012 5:03 PM
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Jonathan Caouette made a name for himself some years back with his debut feature "Tarnation," a manic, prodding look into his family, created on the cheap using home videos and the trusty iMovie program. His stock blew up, and a successful screening at the Sundance Film Festival eventually lead to him helming the "All Tomorrow's Parties" documentary and a personal horror short "All Flowers In Time."

But the story about Caouette and his mother Renee Leblanc wasn't over, and the director revisited this for "Walk Away Renee," a documentary that serves as a sequel/proper-ending to his astonishingly affecting first film. You can check out "Walk Away Renee" right now online at SundanceNow, and in preparation for its release we spoke to Jonathan about its germination, the difficulty of making a work so intimate, and what he's up to for his next project.

Isn't That The Title Of...
Fans of '60s baroque-pop band The Left Banke likely recognize the title of Caouette's documentary, as it borrows from one of their most popular songs. "I grew up listening to it because it was one of my mother's favorite songs. It was kind of a teeny-bopper anthem that she really liked," he explained, admitting that the original lyrics didn't really fit the movie or their relationship. "Even though the song is about love lost, it sort of is about losing the person you love. For me I decided to just take the words and re-think them out of context, and in that case it means that my mother is essentially someone who can walk away as herself, she's able to walk away as Renee... I should've added the 'as' to the title," the filmmaker stated with a laugh. Despite the fitting title, Caouette admitted that it was just one in a lengthy list of potentials, though ultimately "Walk Away Renee" was the one with the most lasting power.

Sequel Movie, Sequel Book?
Jonathan is very clear that making a sequel, ending, or whatever to his film "Tarnation" was never part of the plan -- it kind of just felt like the right thing to do at the time, and while he is proud of it, there is an issue of wanting to make it as perfect as it can be. "I theoretically have been working on this film for awhile, and I think with this one in particular I kind of wish I had more time. I really like it, and I am glad that this exists, but for me it feels frustrating when you go back in your mind's eye and think about all of the different versions and different stories. The film could've been very different," he said, adding, "When you create something, you want to get it right." And while he's pretty much done with personal documentaries (read below), he thinks a book might be a good addition to this series. "There's a lot of interesting circumstances and such that surrounded the film, and maybe it could foster an interesting book later on. I'd really love to make a book about the making of these two. I thought about that circa 'Tarnation,' but I kind of put it on the shelf... but now that this film exists, and I'm approaching 40, it sounds like a good idea."

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